South Africa sells out World Cup tickets

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Irene Mokwatu, 53, wears a plastic garbage bag wrapped around her waist to protect her dress from the dust she is sweeping off the street.

"I was born here," says Mokwatu, 53. "This World Cup will not benefit us, they won't even let us sell mautuana during the cup."

She leans over, with a big smile, to make sure I spell the word right. "Mautuana is what we Africans like to eat when we see football. It is salted chicken's feet and livers," she says with a conspiratorial gleam in her eye.

She is sweeping in the shadow of Ellis Park stadium, where several of the World Cup games will be played in the center of Johannesburg. Despite some obvious makeovers, the neighborhood looks poor, even slightly dangerous. A few shops are open, others are shuttered. Some homeless people are gathered around a sidewalk can fire to ward off the chill from the Southern Hemisphere winter.

In six weeks the kickoff will happen at Soccer City and South Africa is busy getting ready to host the World Cup. Accommodation is filling up and nearly every ticket for the matches has been sold. For the first time since the United States hosted the tournament, every game is sold out.

But many local business owners feel they have been left out in the cold over the World Cup. The nearby shopkeepers are worried about reports that the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA) and the Johannesburg city council will not permit shops to be open during World Cup game days. They have not been contacted by the Johannesburg city council or FIFA about trading during game-days, according to several shop owners.

Some, like Rene Edropia, who runs the Edropia and Grace Trading shop, opened their businesses with the express purpose of catering to football fans. At his shop, fans can use the internet, call cheaply all over the world, buy snacks and fix their cell phones.

"If they won't let us trade during the World Cup, then we can't pay our rent. It's that simple," he said, putting his elbows on the glass counter, looking concerned. "When they decide if we can trade or not, they have to send us an official notice, we have received nothing so far."

It's a rough neighborhood, and the police stand close together as if fearful of their safety. The officers say they have no idea if the area will be closed to trading during games, but outside of this poor and depressed neighborhood, a national debate is taking place. Front-page stories in South African newspapers reported about recently published by-laws that FIFA required the government to pass. The wide-ranging regulations surrounding World Cup games restrict everything from hanging laundry out to dry, to who can ride a horse and whether someone like Mokwatu can sell her mautuana.

Behind this situation on a poor urban street is another, more disturbing picture of FIFA's strict policy it is exerting over this country, even at the highest levels.

In the report, “Player and Referee: Conflicting interests and the 2010 FIFA World Cup,” published in April by the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies, is a book written by six investigative journalists that uncovers some of the back-room dealings in the run-up to Africa's first World Cup. The report alleges that officials indulged in questionable business practices including overpricing of services for visitors.

It charges that a lack of transparency in business dealings between the government, FIFA and the private sector made corrupt practices commonplace. For instance it charges that proper procedures were not followed in awarding the tender to build the Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg where the opening match will be played.

Throughout the country there is widespread discontent with FIFA and how the sports extravaganza has been sold to a country that will struggle to pay for it.

At the Cape Town Press Club this week, author and investigative reporter Andrew Jennings talked about corruption in FIFA. His book, “Foul! The Secret World of FIFA: Bribes Vote Rigging and Ticket Scandals” exposes many of FIFA's practices.

Jennings suggests that FIFA operates like an organized crime set-up and he quotes from past a FIFA court case pressed by VISA and MasterCard, who alleged in their Manhattan court statement that “any company should have grave concerns about doing business with FIFA ... [where] lying and deception and bad faith are standard operating procedure.”

But David Wilt — homeless and standing next to a sidewalk fire can to stay warm in the morning rain — wondered how he will benefit from the World Cup. Wilt said he has been on the street for three months living in front of the place from which he was evicted, a scant hundred feet from Ellis Park Stadium.

"All the people of this area, they won't benefit, but the rich people will. Sepp Blatter (president of FIFA) does not want to see us, so they will clean us up off the street,” he said, and his friends mutter in agreement as they feed another piece of cardboard into the fire. "We have no hope."